Gary Clarke landed a treble, Dick Leech won the feature, and Peter Stennett continued his good form.
That’s how it fared on Saturday, with all three trainers grabbing the headlines during Darwin’s five-event program at Fannie Bay.
Clarke, the Top End and Country’s premier trainer for the past 11 years, celebrated success with Tanaawol ($4.40 fav), New York Spirit ($10) and Henestrosa ($3 fav).
Jarrod Todd, the No.1 rider for the Clarke stable and the Top End and Country’s champion jockey for the past four years, saluted on all three horses.
Clarke (20) has skipped well clear of Phil Cole (10) and Stennett (8) in the trainers’ premiership, while Todd (20) holds a commanding lead over apprentice Emma Lines (12) and Adam Nicholls (8) in the jockeys’ premiership.
Tanaawol, a new arrival from Michael Hickmott’s Murray Bridge stable, snuck home by the bearest of margins over 1200m (BM54), which was also the first of six heats in the 2023/24 Lightning Wet Season Series for the mid-range sprinters.
New York Spirit led all the way before saluting over 1200m, a race for the maiden performers and three-year-olds at Class 2 level, while Henestrosa hit the front after 200m before overcoming 0-58 opposition over 1000m.
Leech made it seven wins in the tropics this campaign when apprentice Jade Hampson guided Prince Of Mercia ($4) to victory in a wide open 0-76 Handicap that comprised six runners over 1100m.
For Hampson, the leading NT apprentice last season, it was her first win since returning from a back injury on Melbourne Cup Day.
Leech and Hampson combined to win the Alice Springs Cup (2000m) in April with Write Your Name before the 19-year-old was sidelined for four months when she was dislodged from her mount at Fannie Bay in early July – a week before the start of the Darwin Cup Carnival.
Write Your Name went on to win the $200,000 Darwin Cup (2050m) on the first Monday in August, with highly successful NT jockey Paul Shiers winning the NT’s biggest race for the first time, but had she been fit, Hampson would have most likely retained the ride.
Stennett, who boasts a small stable, celebrated his ninth win from 25 starts this season when New Enterprise ($4 fav) made it three wins from four starts with victory over 1300m (0-64), with Stan Tsaikos, who rode the horse to victory last start on November 7, once again on board.
Prince Of Mercia, who had a win and a second at the end of the Darwin Cup Carnival, was returning from a 10-week spell after a second and a third in Kununurra in late August and early September.
The six year-old gelding was stepping up in grade, but after sitting in fifth place the son of Magnus – a solid performer in Victoria for Mornington trainer Clayton Douglas – picked up speed at the 600m with Hampson electing to go three wide.
Turning for home, Prince Of Mercia hit the front at the 300m to seal victory by a length with Garry Lefoe’s Mighty Murt ($3.60), who was aiming for four straight wins, unable to bridge the gap, while Cole’s $3.60 bookmaker favourite Star Magnum, the early leader, fading over the concluding stages to finish third.
At the end of the day, the fact that Prince Of Mercia (56kg) had a significant weight advantage due to Hampson’s 2kg claim played a key role in the result.
It was only the third win for Leech since Write Your Name’s Darwin Cup success, but in his defence he hasn’t had too many runners in Darwin and Alice Springs since travelling to Kununurra after taking holidays.
Leech, who had a winning treble on Darwin Cup Day, had every reason to celebrate on Saturday following the disappointment of Century Fox’s disqualification after returning a positive swab after finishing second in the $75,000 Darwin Guineas (1600m) in July.
The Alice Springs and Provincial champion trainer from last season was also fined $6000.
Tanaawol, a six-year-old gelding by Savabeel, was seemingly no chance on Saturday when well adrift in seventh place at the 700m before producing a blistering final 300m in the home straight.
He nailed Chris Pollard’s Stars The Limit ($7), who led by almost three lengths passing the 200m, by nostril, while Clarke’s nine-year-old gelding Patria ($7.50), who sat three wide after sharing the lead, did a good job to hold on for third – albeit finishing 3.8 lengths adrift.
“Tanaawol, he’s been going well on the track,” Clarke said before the race.
“Looking at his form, he might be one of those ones that needs the mile.
“I’ve got him fresh, hopefully he can be competitive in the 1200m and 1300m races.
“We’ll see this weekend, it will probably give us an indication.”
With 400m to go approaching the final bend, Pollard’s No Rain No Flowers was the only threat to New York Spirit, a four-year-old mare by Manhattan Man, but the $1.75 Neds favourite couldn’t bridge the gap to finish 2.6 lengths adrift – Patrick Johnston’s Barty Aya ($3.90), last exiting the back straight, came from no where to finish third.
Henestrosa, a five-year-old gelding by Written Tycoon, tasted success for the first time since March and was never really threatened before prevailing by 1.3 lengths from fast-finishing duo Chief Mondo ($6), a stablemate, and Cole’s Courageous Hearts ($6.50).
At one stage on Saturday, New Enterprise was a $4.80 equal favourite along with Clarke’s pair Global Wonder and Prince Ruban, and Tayarn Halter’s Raffalli.
Lines, who has this remarkable habit of controlling the tempo of a race if she can lead, had Tom Logan’s Fromthenevernever ($7.50) travelling beautifully out in front from Raffalli and New Enterprise.
Heading for home, New Enterprise – a five-year-old gelding by Anacheeva – was three lengths behind the leader and with 100m to go Fromthenevernever still held sway.
New Enterprise and Clarke’s fast-finishing Global Wonder ($6), way back in seventh place passing the 700m, swamped Fromthenevernever, who would finish third, in the final 50m with Stennett’s galloper sneaking home by a nose.